Tag Archives: humour

Interview with Terry Fallis

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picture of Terry FallisTerry Fallis earned an engineering degree from McMaster University. Drawn to politics, he worked for cabinet ministers at Queen’s Park and Ottawa. His first novel, The Best Laid Plans, began as a podcast, then was self-published, won the Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour, was re-published by McClelland & Stewart to great reviews, was crowned the 2011 winner of CBC’s Canada Reads as “the essential Canadian novel of the decade,” and became a CBC Television series. His next two novels, The High Road and Up and Down were finalists for the Leacock Medal, and in 2015, he won the prize a second time for his fourth book, No Relation. He lives in Toronto with his wife and two sons.

Fallis will be in Thunder Bay on October 30th, 2017 for the International Festival of Authors event at the Thunder Bay Art Gallery; he will be presenting his new novel, One Brother Shy.

Shauna Kosoris: You’ve had quite the career: you were trained as an engineer, worked as a political strategist for high profile members of the Liberal Party, and now are writing books. How did you end up here, writing books?

Terry Fallis: A love for language, books, reading, and writing eventually asserted itself. My father engendered a love and reverence for the English language when I was very young. Despite a rather circuitous route, writing a novel now feels as though it were almost inevitable. It did take me a while to get started. In fact, I didn’t write my first novel until I was 45 years old. So it’s never too late!

And now you’ve written six novels! What inspired your newest novel, One Brother Shy?

I am a member in good standing of the write what you know school of writing. There’s very little autobiography in my novels, but I do know about the issues and social dynamics at play in my novels. Writing with authority and authenticity is important, so I stick to things I know about, care about, or have experienced. At the core of this novel is the relationship between identical twin brothers. It just so happens that I am an identical twin. My twin brother Tim and I are still very close and we talk every day and see one another at least once a week, if only to play our weekly ball hockey game. We also still look very much alike and are routinely confused for one another. So it felt quite natural writing about twins even though virtually nothing about the story in the novel parallels my own life.

The main character of One Brother Shy, Alex MacAskill, often thinks one thing but says something different out loud. Where did you get the idea for this from?

I wanted the challenge of writing a narrator who is not just flawed in a human way as the narrators in my other novels are, but who is also damaged. Alex MacAskill, the narrator in One Brother Shy, suffered a very serious and very public humiliation ten years before the novel opens, and it has knocked him off his path in life. Outwardly, he is extremely shy and rarely strings more than a few words together when he can’t avoid talking to someone. But he carries on this witty, vibrant and vital dialogue in his head. I’m trying to show that beneath the extreme reticence is a thoughtful and funny person. So by showing the inner dialogue in italics and then what he actually says out loud using quotation marks, you get a much more three dimensional view of Alex.

And where did you get the idea for his boss, Genghis Khan Simone?

I think most people over the course of a career encounter at least one Simone Ashe, though perhaps not quite as extreme as I have portrayed her. I’ve been very lucky and have never had a boss like her, but I have friends who have. I like to use somewhat extreme characters to help propel the comic potential in the story. Writing Simone was lots of fun.

Oh, I bet! In your first book, The Best Laid Plans, the two main characters are really into feminist literature. Feminist literature and causes come up again in your other works (most notably Poles Apart, your story about feminist blogger Eve). Why does feminism appeal to you so much as a literary topic for your writing?

I find it much easier to write about topics that I care about. I’ve been a staunch feminist since my time in the national student movement back in the early 1980s. It’s an issue I’ve thought and read a lot about over the years and I remain quite interested in it. We certainly still have some distance to go before equality can be proclaimed. As you’ve noted, you can see my interest in gender equality lurking in the background of my novels, and it’s front and centre in Poles Apart.

I also need to ask you about your unique writing process. I read in an interview you did with Feathertale that you flip an idea around in your head, then heavily plan the book before sitting down to finally write just one draft. How did you discover this method?

I’m an engineer by academic training even though I’ve never practiced engineering in the formal sense. So I applied my engineer’s brain to the challenge of writing a novel. Bridges aren’t built without blueprints/ I don’t write novels without blueprints. So I spend several months thinking through the story and mapping it out before drafting three or four pages of bullet points for each chapter. Writing the actual manuscript is the very last step in my so-called writing process.

What are you working on now?

I’m currently hard at work on my seventh novel, tentatively entitled If at First You Succeed. I should be writing the manuscript later this fall and it should be published in the fall of 2018.

I’d like to finish up with a couple of quick questions on what you read. What book or author inspired you to write?

Robertson Davies and John Irving were both quite influential. I love their novels and return to them often.

Is there a book or author that you think everyone should read?

Well, following up on my response to the previous question, A Prayer for Owen Meany was a very important novel to me and I frequently encourage people to read it. It has everything I could ever ask for in a story.

And what are you currently reading?

I’m currently reading Hotel Florida by Amanda Vaill. It’s nonfiction and traces the lives of several influential people, including Martha Gellhorn and Ernest Hemingway, against the backdrop of the Spanish Civil War.

One Brother Shy cover

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Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde

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Published in 2009 and classified under the genres of fantasy fiction / science fiction, Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde is a far cry from other books with similar titles. Fforde is best known for his ongoing Thursday Next series and fans will find his standard flair in this dystopian tale. The story takes place in Chromatacia, where your social status and standard of living is dictated by your ability (or lack of ability) to see natural colour. As an example, Eddie Russet can only see red; meaning that every other natural colour appears grey to him and he only sees other colours (blue, yellow, purple, etc) by means of artificial enhancements to those items as produced by the national colour grid.

Jasper Fforde

Chromatacia exists at least 500 years in the future after some sort of disaster wipes out current civilization. The population is governed by the rules of Munsell, which include some truly bizarre decrees such as a ban on spoon manufacturing. The entire place is highly complicated and convoluted, making for much more entertaining reading then it would reality. Protagonist Eddie Russet gets sent to the outer fringes to perform a chair census and in the process enters into a plot to break down the colour boundaries and work towards a more cohesive society.

Fforde incorporates wit, whimsy, revolution, and more into this engaging piece of fiction. With two more books slated to pick up where Shades of Grey ends, there is sure to be plenty more to look forward to from Jasper Fforde in the future.

 

 

 

 

 

Paris for One and Other Stories by Jojo Moyes

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In the follow-up to her bestselling novels, Me before You and After You, author Jojo Moyes has published  an  eclectic  collection of nine short stories each from a woman’s perspective and dealing with  a variety of themes from troubled relationships to near magical shoes. The longest story in the set is “Paris for One” and centres on Nell who by her own admission is “not the adventurous type”, but has given up a planned trip to Brighton to have a romantic trip to Paris with her boyfriend, Peter.  At the outset it is clear that Peter has no intention of joining her, and instead of following her routine inclinations and cancelling, she embarks for Paris on her own.  The weekend does not start promisingly when Nell finds her hotel has double booked her and she spends the first night sharing with a stranger.  Preserving she soon discovers the delights of the city and the company of an attractive Frenchman named Fabien.

My favourite tale is “Between the Tweets”  and follows a formerly popular TV personality with a squeaky clean image and sinking ratings.  Mr. Travis is being trolled on the internet by a woman who claims to have had a spicy relationship with him.  The story is a delight about a PR nightmare with an unusual twist.

Each tale in this collection is intriguingly written, and  the characters are well drawn (if not necessary all entirely likeable) using dialogue for the most part mixed with subtle narration . Moyes experience as a journalist as well as a fiction writer is evident in the succinct  use of description that give the barest of details and leaves much to the reader’s imagination.

This would be a great and quick read for Moyes fans and anyone would relishes the joys of an interesting short story.

 

Nine Women, One Dress by Jane L. Rosen

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This elegantly written book shows just how connected we all are.  Here in Thunder Bay, it’s common to discover you have something or someone in common to almost everyone you meet.  The “one degree of separation” phenomenon is understandable in a city the size of ours, but could it work in the metropolis of New York?  This book proves it can, and one incredible dress is the touchstone that unites a group of nine diverse women.  It’s appropriate that the dress at the centre of this book is an iconic little black dress.  The dress takes on a mantle of magic as it fills a specific need for each woman that wears it.   The dress is created by a pattern maker at the end of his career, so it’s special as soon as it’s made.  A fresh off the bus model has the privilege to wear it first, and is an instant star.  After that the dress becomes the main character of the story.  Rosen gives the nine women their own chapter and voice, as their lives intersect with the dress. The dress works its magic in the lives of a Bloomingdales sales girl, a private detective, and a personal assistant, among others.  Rosen’s writing is a delight to read, and helps keep all the stories straight.  Readers discussing this book online have shared their own stories of life-changing moments, revealing that sometimes truth is stranger than fiction!

 

Interview with Emma Hooper

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Picture of Emma HooperRaised in Alberta, Emma Hooper brought her love of music and literature to the U.K., where she received a doctorate in musico-literary studies at the University of East Anglia and currently lectures at Bath Spa University.  She comes home to Canada to cross-country ski whenever she can. You can find her online at emmahooper.ca.

Shauna Kosoris: What inspired you to write your debut novel Etta and Otto and Russell and James?

Emma Hooper: The characters of Otto and Etta are inspired by, and loosely based on, my maternal grandparents. My maternal grandmother taught in a small prairie schoolhouse, like Etta, and my maternal grandfather came from a farm family of fifteen kids, like Otto. His hair all did turn white when he was over in Europe for the war. It’s a family trait, actually. I’ve got a natural white streak, and my brother does too… .

Etta’s journey has a very Forrest Gump-like feel once other folks start to follow her and bring her supplies.  Was this intentional?

Ha! No, I can’t say any Forrest Gump relation was intentional, but I’m certainly not the first, or last, one to use this type of ‘inspirational journey’ plot… it’s a good one!  I think it’s pretty much inevitable that people will find another book/movie/story like yours, no matter what you’ve written. There are only so many basic plots and basic character demographics, so I don’t mind so much. The content, the details, the style and the tone of the writing are the distinctive features, I believe.

Thinking of the details, why does Etta decide to go east to the Atlantic ocean?

Two quick answers for that: 1) Personal history (retracing Otto’s steps) and 2) The Rocky Mountains…

Oh yes, the Rocky Mountains would be a rather big obstacle when travelling on foot! While Etta is off on her adventure, Otto bakes through her recipe book.  Are these recipes from a family cookbook?

Yes they are. They are my grandmother’s, and, like the ones in the book, the originals were full of little coded shortcuts and amendments that made it difficult for anyone but my grandmother to really get them right! Like Otto, I’ve tried the cinnamon buns so many times…though I wouldn’t say I’ve succeeded! Matrimonial cake/squares I’m better at. I’ve never tried the flax flower paste though…

You’ll have to give the paste a try!  Along with writing books, you’re the solo musician Waitress for the Bees and a member of the string quartet The Stringbeans.  Has music had any influence on your writing?

I think my musical background makes me overly sensitive to things like rhythm and pacing in my own writing. I can spend ages labouring over one sentence that’s perfectly okay in terms of grammar and content, but doesn’t have quite the rhythm, quite the right tempo. It pushes prose a bit more in the direction of poetry, I think (although I also think there’s no definite line there, no black and white. I like the idea of prose that reaches into poetry sometimes and vice versa).

So what are you working on now?

Putting the finishing touches on book two! It’s got mermaids…

That sounds exciting – I can’t wait! To finish up I have a few questions about what you read.  What book or author inspired you to write?

One of the first ‘big kid’ books I remember reading was called My Daniel; it had something to do with dinosaur bones and the loss of a brother. I remember crying and crying as I read it and LOVING it. With that came the realisation that writing, books, could have this hugely potent impact that readers could let themselves go into.

Nowadays, I admire writers who play with magic and reality, and who embrace joy as well as suffering in their books. Examples are Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Karen Russell and Jonathan Safran Foer.

Is there a book or author that you think everyone should read?

Not exactly, no, I think everyone is allowed to have different tastes and things that will speak to them more or less. However, I do think that everyone should READ something! So, I guess my answer to the question is: Anything and everything!

That’s totally fair.  Finally, what are you currently reading?

A nonfiction book, actually, which is fairly rare for me, called Bad Singer: The Surprising Science of Tone Deafness and How We Hear Music.

Etta and Otto and Russell and James cover

Dirty Chick: Adventures of an Unlikely Farmer by Antonia Murphy

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dirty chick

From time to time, we all imagine abandoning our current lives and completely starting over, unfortunately for most, this remains nothing more than a dream.  For author Antonia Murphy and her husband, Peter, changing their lives completely became a priority when their son, Silas, was born with global developmental delay.  Murphy, a San Francisco native decided that moving to the small New Zealand community of Purua, and becoming farmers would give them the time and support they needed to help Silas. Being a writer, Antonia chronicled the highs, lows and improbable disasters that occurred in their first years as farmers.

The image that Antonia had of a peaceful farm existence was shattered almost immediately, working with the chickens, goats, sheep and other farm animals was loud, dirty, hard and frequently disgusting . With no experience, Antonia and Peter relied on books, which were usually wrong, and their neighbours, who knew better, to guide them.  Their neighbours and the other residents of Purua are mixed lot; some come from generations of New Zealand farmers, some are traditional Maori and others are new arrivals like themselves.  Some of the funniest and most embarrassing portions of the memoir deal with the Murphy’s attempts at socialization.

The animals on the farm are as much characters in the narrative as the humans.  In the first pages of the book we meet, Pearl, the family goat, Lucky, their runaway cow and Quakers, a sex obsessed duck, just to name a few.  Each is painted with its own personality and watching the family try to deal with their charges is at times, hilarious, frustrating, illuminating and sad.

The book moves quickly and Murphy is a likable narrator; strong, honest and willing to laugh at herself.  The memoir, like life itself, moves from laugh out loud funny situations to moments edged with sorrow and I was particularly moved by the care, acceptance and support the community gave to Silas.

Three Anonymous Limericks

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poetry tile

There was a young woman named Kite,
Whose speed was much faster than light,
She set out one day,
In a relative way,
And returned on the previous night.

Poems, what a silly thing.
They’re meaningless and boring,
Pointless and rhyme.
Who wastes their time,
Thinking up ludicrous writing.

There once was a grumpy dog,
Who ate all the world’s frogs.
He put the planet on riot,
And France on diet,
Then began to rid the hogs
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